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March 26, 2011

Sullinger vows to return next year

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NEWARK, N.J. - Jared Sullinger's dreams of a national title were gone with Ohio State's 62-60 loss to Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 Friday night.

The freshman big man didn't hesitate committing to trying again next year.

"I'll be in an Ohio State uniform next year," Sullinger said. "I don't like the look in people's eyes and I didn't like the taste of losing. If I made a decision about next year, it would be off of a win, not a loss."

Despite the fact the freshman big man scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed 16 rebounds - recording double-double No. 18 of the season - Sullinger said he felt like he let his team down.

The No. 1 overall seed and favorite to win the NCAA Tournament, Ohio State's William Buford missed a shot as time expired that would have sent the Buckeyes to the win.

Instead, Ohio State fell in the Sweet 16 for the second-consecutive year.

"I know he didn't like the taste that came in his mouth today," Sullinger said of Buford, who finished the game 2-of-16 from the floor. "To see him in tears, Will isn't an emotional type of guy. It just shows he cares about this basketball team and loves this basketball team."

Sullinger admitted he'd work on Buford to return next season alongside with him. Both players are projected to be selections in this year's NBA Draft.

When it comes to Sullinger in particular, the 6-foot-9 freshman seemed to be the latest one-and-done player at Ohio State under head coach Thad Matta. Projected as a high lottery pick, Sullinger's return to Ohio State would mean forgoing the big pay day that comes with being a high pick in the NBA Draft.

Matta has lost five players to the NBA Draft after spending just one season in Columbus, including freshmen Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., and Daequan Cook after Ohio State's run to the Final Four in 2006.

With Sullinger, though, Matta said he knew he wouldn't be the latest player to jumper early to the NBA after only one season in Columbus.

"He told me from day-one he'd be back for two years," Matta said. "He said, 'Draw me up a contract, whatever you want me to do, I'll sign it.'"

Sullinger has described himself as a winner since arriving on campus at Ohio State. The loss to the Wildcats certainly didn't sit well with the freshman.

It was the time he spent with the Buckeyes this season, however, that made the most compelling case for the freshman to return.

"The love for this basketball team makes me want to come back," Sullinger said. "To see five of them depart from us is very touching. I am going to miss these guys terribly. I feel like I let them down today. I want to come back and show them I had a lapse, but I can do better."

After a loss like the one Sullinger sustained Friday night, it is only natural to be skeptical that he'd keep his word and stay for his sophomore season.

Sullinger doesn't take it as a loose promise.

"I'm a man of my word," he said. "I won't change my mind for anybody. This is what I want. This is where I'm happy. I'm happy being an Ohio State Buckeye and playing for Coach Matta."

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.

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